Archive for June, 2012

14,278 ft.

There are 54 (more or less) mountain peaks in Colorado with the distinction of having summits over 14,000 ft. above sea level. These mountains are lovingly called “fourteeners.” A favorite pastime in Colorado is “peak bagging,” in which someone seeks to climb as many 14,000+ peaks as possible. It’s pretty common to hear of folks bagging all 54 (more or less). This is not, however, very common to hear in our household.

The only fourteener we’d ever bagged was Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs, which we did by cog railway train one Memorial Day a few years ago. No sweat. However, on our 101-in-1001 list, we did put “climb” a fourteener as one of our local to-dos. I did put the word in quotes so we could count Mt. Evans if we got the opportunity to do that one day (Evans and Pikes Peak are the only two you can drive to the top of).

I didn’t really anticipate actually climbing one; in my mind I always saw it as quite a challenging task well beyond my skill and fitness level. And indeed, there are many peaks that require technical rock climbing and very long trails to the top. Furthermore, a significant mountain climb requires a ridiculously early start, as dangerous thunderstorms are prone to pop up at any time in the afternoon out of the clear blue, leaving you utterly defenseless on the bare face. Ideally, you should be well on your way back down by noon. Plus, hiking at such altitude is not trivial even for the fit.

However, over the years I heard from various people that there were some peaks that were actually more accessible in both their location as well as their technical difficulty. In fact, a few were within an hour drive of Denver with well established hiking trails to the top, making it unnecessary to get there before dawn in order to get on the trail early enough. With some trailheads starting “just” 3,000 ft. below the summit, the overall distance to the peak is even downright reasonable.

DH and I had been pondering the idea of doing one of these so-called “easy” peaks at some point, but it was hard to know where to start, as we don’t have much experience in the area.  However, we were recently talking with multiple friends at various times who recommended one to us as a good one for “beginners.” Grays Peak is just a short drive from Denver, and its proximity and well-marked trail make it a very popular hike for locals. It’s also a two-for-one; with minimal (relatively) effort, you can summit Grays and take a short hike over a saddle over to Torreys Peak, also 14,000+ ft, and bag two in one trip.

We thought we might work our way up to it with a few lower altitude hikes throughout the summer, but when our friend said he was thinking of taking a casual “stroll” up Grays in his spare time, we decided it would behoove us to take advantage of the opportunity to go with an experienced outdoors-man who’s done a few of these before. Therefore, we packed up our gear in our truck and headed out to hit the trail with three of our good friends.

The weather could not have been more perfect for climbing a fourteener. Not a single cloud in the sky, and no threat of thunderstorms all day. It was over 100 in Denver, so the temp was really not cold at all at altitude. There were a few strong gusts of wind, but not prolonged and manageable.

Destination: Grays Peak: 14,278 ft. and ~4 miles. As seen from the trailhead.

We started off a little less than ideal, though; as this is a popular destination on a summer Saturday, it seemed like all of Denver was there. We parked 1.5 miles below the trailhead, so we had a decent hike in before we even got started. However, once we got going, we managed a pretty good slow and steady pace up through the broad meadow to the base of the mountain. A couple of people from our group decided to take it easy and decided not to go all the way, and around 12,500 ft. the rest of us started up the actual mountain face.

The key to hiking at such high altitude is to take it super slow and steady. There’s also no shame in taking many breaks, even just a few hundred feet apart, especially as you get up around 14,000 ft. Even the most fit people are doing the same thing; your body just can’t function the same with so much less oxygen, plus you’re climbing, too, after all. Slow and steady wins the race here.

At one point nearing the top, our group of three stopped to rest, and after a few minutes I told DH and our friend that I’d go ahead and start my slow plod up the mountain, figuring that they’d eventually catch up to me before the summit. The distance between us waxed and waned for a while, but before I knew it, I looked back and couldn’t see them at all! Somehow, even at such high altitude, I had hit a stride, and even with slow plodding and frequent rests, I was steadily ascending to the top. At the last switchback before summiting, I looked down to see DH and my friend on their way. I decided to hang back a few minutes so we could summit together. Sure enough, we all made it to the top.

The top of a 14-er….popular tourist destination with traffic jams!

And by “all,” I do mean half of the Denver metro area. Like I said, it’s a very popular trail, and it was quite packed with people all the way along it; that made a few of the rockier and steeper sections a bit more fun to navigate. However, our trusty guide led us to a little hidey hole away from the crowd where we could lounge out of the wind, eat some food, and take in the blue sky. It was almost like being at the beach. Almost.

Just chillin’ at 14,278 ft.

It’s quite an amazing view from the top of such a mountain. You could see so many miles in all directions. I could see ski resorts, the interstate, reservoirs, and other mountains I recognized. I could even see smoke from the High Peak fire in Ft. Collins. It’s quite a change in perspective.

From the top of Grays, it’s a nary but a quick jaunt over to Torreys across the saddle. However, it was getting pretty late and we were pretty tired (I’d spent that extra 1.5 miles hiking from the car to the trailhead), and we still had to get down the mountain. So that will have to wait for another day.

You are parked here…and you’ve gotta get back there somehow!

You would probably imagine that it’s all downhill from here, right? Well, you’d technically be correct, but people usually don’t appreciate how difficult downhill can be. The trail was very loose and quite steep in places, meaning you had to be very careful with your footing lest you slip off the trail and down the face. Hiking down a steep incline is also quite hard on your legs and knees. Therefore, we didn’t make any better time going down than we did going up until we got back to the broader, more meadow-like area. And by then, my legs were so tired that even the smallest step down over a rock was a potential hazard for tripping or twisting an ankle. My legs were sooo tired by the time we got back to the trailhead that I almost thought I couldn’t take one more step without resting. (I also had to pee pretty significantly at that point, making it even more miserable…I’ve never been so excited to see a vault toilet in my life) However, I dug down and found the strength to make it back. My quads were terribly sore for about two or three days, though, and I was completely exhausted and good for nothing on Sunday!

All in all, it was a good experience, despite the exhaustion near the end. There’s no way I could have done this without having trained for the 10K run in the past months; that gave me the cardio capacity and some more leg endurance to tackle it. A hike or two at lower elevations probably would have been good, but we still managed alright. DH did have a bit of altitude sickness, but despite not feeling great he still had a stellar performance. We may or may not tackle another “easy” one in the future, but at least we can say we’ve done it, and we’ve cross another 101-in-1001 item off our list. Very satisfying.

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Framed!

I was surprised to realize recently that I’ve had my current pair of glasses for over three years now. My prescription hasn’t changed much according to my last few exams, and taking the time required to find a new pair of frames has inevitably never happened. However, after constant use 16-18 hours per day, 365 days per year, my lenses were started to get significantly scratched, and after my last exam a few months ago I decided that I’d go ahead and pick something out and have a new pair made.

I’ve been wearing glasses since 4th grade, and I’ve had quite a few pairs since then! I’ve experimented with some different styles through the years and it’s kind of fun to try something new. Of course, through the years I’ve also has to pay for glasses, and, baby, they aren’t cheap. I’ve experimented with various optical establishments, too, trying to find a reasonable solution. It’s astounding how pricey frames and decent lenses are (and I just get middle-of-the-road stuff), even at “discount” places. But since I wear them constantly for two or more years, I’ve felt it averaged out over time and was worth the investment.

This time, after seeing dollar signs while pricing frames and lenses at a local shop, I was incredibly motivated to figure out some other option. I’d heard people talk about purchasing glasses online with great success; the savings are substantial, and most people seem satisfied with the quality of the product and the customization of the lenses. So, like any reasonable 21st century girl, I began to research it online.

People seem to fall into two distinct camps about this subject. The first group, in which I was more or less standing previously, was that you absolutely couldn’t purchase a pair of glasses online. First, you can’t try them on, nor can you have them adjusted to you if there is a fit problem. Plus, you cannot trust the reliability of some person somewhere out there hacking away at optical materials producing sub-quality lenses that might detrimentally affect your vision. The second group, however, claims that this apparent need for someone local and the delusion that you can’t possibly buy glasses online has artificially driven up the price charged by local shops to, if you will, a captive audience. They aver that one can get the same quality frames and lenses online without the need for artificial inflation. There are even sites that will send you frames to try on at home before ordering. Plus, if you know the size of your current frames (usually three numbers stamped on the temple), you can see how the size of those online compare to yours; most sites give thorough measurements of every dimension of the frames.

So, as long as you have a current optical prescription, you should be completely able to order online. I was a little skeptical at first, of course, but open to the idea. After hearing glowing reports all over the internet (with a few negatives, of course), I decided that I’d go ahead and try it. For less than the price of just frames at a local shop, I could get those same frames plus pretty nice lenses with all the trappings online. It seemed like a minimal investment on a gamble.

As far as the options available online, there are two distinct alternatives. One is purchasing normal frames from normal optical places that sell the same stuff you get locally at a discount through websites. The other alternative is to buy cheap, no-name-brand generic (but allegedly the same quality) lenses and frames for rock bottom prices. We’re talking $35 frames and lenses, if you get the cheapest ones. Since I had already picked out a couple of “designer” frames I like in a store and knew they fit and looked good on me, I decided to go with option number one. So last Friday I finally decided on a website with good reviews (www.glasses.com, if you are curious) and placed my order. I took a cellphone picture of my prescription and emailed it do them, and my order was anticipated in about two weeks.

To my utter shock, my glasses were in my mailbox on the next Thursday afternoon, less than one week from ordering. They were the same frames I picked out in the store (not knock-offs) and the lenses were clean and sharp-looking. The prescription appears to be right, although I always have a little bit of adjustment time due to the correction for my astigmatism. Sometimes when I turn my head quickly, the floor appears to do quite funny things…  However, I’ve had this same experience before, so I’m going to give it a few days before claiming there’s a real issue.

Overall, I would say my experience has been quite satisfactory, enough so that I’d definitely try it again. In the past few years I’ve started keeping a pair of Rx sunglasses also, so have just about decided to have those done up, too. I also found another pair of funky frames that I was very drawn to in person, and while I deemed them a little too impractical and the wrong color palette for my typical dress, it’s incredibly tempting to get them as a second pair. However, I’m not a two-pair-of-glasses kind of girl, so I’ll still probably have to pass on that, even at the super great deal. 🙂

So, if you’re looking for frames and have sticker shock when you walk into the optometrist’s, then I’d highly suggest giving it a try.

 

Starting to sink in

We are, inexplicably, 2/3 of the way through June now. Yikes. I have something like five weeks left here at my job. While I’ve known when my appointment would be over for a long time now, every day the reality that I won’t be here anymore is starting to sink in.

I’ve been working here for seven years now; in fact, my anniversary was just a couple of weeks ago. I’ve met a lot of people, made friends, gotten very familiar with the building and where everything is and how things work. I’m very comfortable. But it seems like life is very good at disrupting us whenever we do get comfortable with something. That’s just the way things work.

I am just beginning to process how different my life is really going to be now, when I don’t come here every day and go to the same lab and talk to the same people. Wow, change is really tough. We naturally tend to resist it, but I do find that regardless of how uncomfortable it is, I adapt to it pretty well. It’s just a matter of accepting it and rolling with it.

So, in the next five or so weeks I need to get my affairs in order. I’ll probably go through my emails to see if there’s anything I might still need, trash/recycle/shred old papers and keep the ones that are still useful, start bringing some of my reference books home, organize my data files on the computer. I guess I’ll also have to say my goodbyes, too. We’ve had a number of group members leave since I’ve been here, and quite a few recently, so we’ve had good-bye lunches and farewells before. I guess in a few weeks it will be mine.

I still haven’t found my next job yet. I had a sort-of interview last week with a professor for a post doc, but I don’t really expect it to go anywhere. I’m not sure I’d even be happy there, either. I guess one never knows, though. I actually found a handful of jobs yesterday that I might be interested in applying for as well as a couple of possible research groups I might be interested in approaching for a post doc. It’s just that even when I come up with an idea for something to pursue, I usually talk myself out of it for one reason or another–well, maybe I wouldn’t actually like working there. Do I really want to move there? Do I have much of a future doing that? What would people think if I decided to do that?

None of that really matters, though. It’s really just about sowing the seeds and doing due diligence and then just waiting to see what will ultimately bear fruit. While the next step is indeed an important one that will play into what I do for the rest of my career, in reality it’s highly unlikely that it will be my whole career, either. So while that means more change will come, it also means that I shouldn’t feel that I’m being  “sentenced” to life in prison with no chance of parole, either. As I’ve said often to DH, even if what I do next isn’t what I really love, it’s probably just going to be for a year or two, something that will prepare me better for what’s next, and anybody can stick with something for a year or two, right?

At the end of the day, there’s only one thing I am confident about–God has something for me to do, and He will make it happen just as soon as His timing is right (unfortunately for us, His timing is almost always different than ours!). All I have to do is put legs on following through with the official bits, but there’s nothing really that I will do to force it to happen. And it will be the right thing, the job that prepares me for the next step, or maybe it will be the perfect job that I will have forever. And if I have to be unemployed for a while, He’s going to provide for our needs, too, and maybe I can use that time to do something else productive and meaningful that I wouldn’t get to have the chance to do when employed nine to five. Either way, it’s ultimately for my good. Therefore I don’t worry about it (or try not to).

“String theory”

Last Friday night I went to a scrapbooking crop night at a friend’s house. Now, I don’t scrapbook at all; however, she has crop night once a month, and she is nice enough to let me come over and knit and eat M&M’s while everybody else crops. Then I also get the satisfaction of watching other people use pretty paper without feeling the insatiable need to buy it myself. Sounds like a win-win to me. I haven’t been able to go in the last couple months, what with defending my thesis and graduation, so I was glad to be able to come back for this one. I got to visit with some of my friends and got some productive knitting time in.

I’m not sure what the deal is, but I’ve completely lost my knitting mojo since the beginning of the year. I know I was busy for a while with thesis stuff, but usually it’s something fun I can do to relax. Plus, I’ve had a lot of down time while watching the X-Files that would have been perfect for knitting. However, I’d try to get out my current project and make some progress but soon lose interest. For some reason, I’ve just been totally uninspired. A few weeks ago I thought about even starting a new project to get myself motivated, but that certainly didn’t happen, either. However, it appears that forcing myself to knit at the crop night has finally given me a boost; at least over the weekend I cranked through a few squares and still feel motivated to do more. Hopefully I’ve crested the peak and am now coasting downhill on this project; it would be great to get another 101-in-1001 item done!

While at the crop, my friend’s cat decided to take a nap on top of my knitting bag. I’m sure it was comfy because it was full of squishy yarn, so she made herself at home while I worked. However, she did finally notice the actual yarn I was working with, and that certainly got her attention.

I call that “string theory.” When I finally made her scram so I could get more yarn, she meandered around and visited some other folks. Then she found an empty box to play in. A cat in a box…for a physicist, the joke just writes itself. However, not all my friends were familiar with Schrodinger’s cat in a box paradox, so my joke fell as flat as, well, a collapsed wavefunction.

Maybe this is why physicists aren’t invited over to play with normal people all that often.

The truth is out there

What innocently began as a way to entertain ourselves with Netflix when we ditched our cable TV a few months ago has turned into an epic blast-from-the-past television marathon. Since sometime in April (maybe even the end of March), DH and I have been watching through the entire X-Files series on Netflix–all nine seasons. Right now we’re in the middle of season seven with two and a half seasons yet to go, plus the 2008 feature-length film for completeness, of course.

When I learned that DH had watched a few of the episodes of the show, I thought, oh, well I guess that’s interesting. A show about aliens. I remember some friends in high school being totally obsessed with X-Files, and while I might have tried once or twice to be cool and watch a couple of episodes, I guess I was too busy with other things to get into it (guess I didn’t watch too much TV at that time, either). So I really didn’t have many preconceived notions about the show except I thought it was about aliens and what happened to somebody’s sister. My roommate had two beta fish named Mulder and Scully. I was also aware of some guy who smoked, courtesy of the Barenaked Ladies. I thought I might casually watch an episode with DH if I happened to be around while it was on.

However, after a few episodes I was quite hooked. The show undoubtedly garnered its loyal cult following and popularity because of a complex, overarching plot line, strong characters and their interactions, and a fairly unique concept, at least for TV at the time. Is there really a government conspiracy? Who is telling the truth and who’s not? What will happen between Mulder and Scully? All these questions have you addictedly watching episode after episode in order to find out the answers. After all, the truth is out there, somewhere in all nine seasons of the show (or I presume it to be, as I have yet to finish the entire series).

I was also quite flabbergasted to realize that this show began in 1993. NINETEEN NINETY-THREE! That’s almost twenty years ago!! I was barely in middle school at that time (note statement that makes me feel REALLY OLD). The show was very high-tech for the day, using state-of-the-art technology like The Internet and Cellular Phones. The current season is from 1999/2000, so everything does look more modern than it did starting out when the phones were bricks (a la Zach Morris), shoulder pads were wide, and hair was poofy. And oh my gosh, Gillian Anderson looks about 23 at the beginning of the show (I think she was 30 or so; I seriously had to go look).

One of the interesting things to me about the show is identifying with the characters. One side of me is kind of like Mulder when he’s joking and snarky (I’m sure you’ve never noticed any of that on the blog). However, my predominate internal personality tends to be very much like Scully–reserved, logical, somewhat skeptical, sometimes fighting my emotions and often not letting myself go. However, I don’t let external pressures interfere with my faith, either. I get fed up with goofiness when in a serious situation. I tend to work in a predominately male world. I get protective and sometimes jealous of my closest friends. I have found the numerous similarities interesting and even enlightening.

So, while I am interested in the show, I do confess that it is somewhat interfering with other extracurricular activities I might be doing at home nights and weekends. 😉 However, we are determined to power through to the end as fast as we can to have some closure and to regain our other downtime activities such as playing board games or crafts or house projects. Just one note to self, though–no more getting into very long running, one-hour episode television shows on Netflix!

Transit of Venus

You might have heard that about a unique solar event that occurred yesterday. For a few hours, Venus could be seen crossing the Sun from here on earth. Such an event happens twice within about eight years and then not again for well over one hundred years. DH and I are always interested when we hear about notable astronomical events, but we’re usually pretty bad at actually getting out to see them. I do remember watching the Hale-Bopp comet in high school (thanks, CHS Astronomy Club!) and seeing various interesting moon effects over the years, but I do inadvertently miss a lot of interesting stuff. We even missed the solar eclipse a few weeks ago because the weather was a little crummy and we also didn’t have eclipse glasses.

We were in town Monday night, and we decided to remedy that second item by purchasing glasses at our local hardware store. We were all ready for Venus viewing on Tuesday. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate; it got windy with lots of high clouds rolling along in the afternoon after it started. However, that did mean that the wind pushed the clouds through the sky pretty fast, thereby creating a few moments of sun viewable from our back deck. During those breaks, we tried a few times and finally were successful! Venus was so small against the sun without any magnification from telescope or anything, but you could just barely make it out with the eclipse glasses.

I’m glad we were able to catch this event, first because of its rare nature and secondly because we often miss things because we aren’t intentional. Yet again, it all comes back to being intentional! Now, time to start planning for our next celestial event.

And remember….Murphy says, always practice safe solar viewing!

 

 

 

 

June Monthly Challenge: Win all the prizes!

It is, inexplicably, already June. Since I already reinstated goal-of-the-week as a way to keep me pumped up during this transitional time, I am reintroducing a monthly challenge for myself as well.

For the month of June, I am going to enter all the sweepstakes and drawings and contests I come across, and hopefully with an increase in participation I will statistically increase my odds of actually winning something! Of course, I really don’t like statistics, so I’m not going to calculate the chi-squared variance of this or anything.

Anyways, this is actually something I’ve considered doing many times before. Just about every time I go to a store or a restaurant, a survey invitation pops up at the bottom of a receipt promising either a percentage off a future visit or entry into a drawing for cash or gift card.  And with Facebook, contests with retailers are even more prevalent, where you can enter to win free stuff, gift cards, or even trips. I have to confess that the latter is possibly the most compelling prize to me at the moment, but even if I don’t win a cruise or a trip to the Olympic games (this is a popular give-away right now), I still might come up with something neat!

While my intention is to enter just about everything I come across, there are a few guidelines I will follow in regards to which contests I might choose to decline. If I have to give too much information or if the whole thing is a little sketchy, I absolutely reserve the right to opt out. Also, if the prize is something I am less interested in, then I’ll pass so that someone who might really appreciate it can have a better chance at it. However, if for example I win a free a free kitchen appliance that I already have, I could always sell one and keep the other. 😉 Regardless, I do reserve some right to not participate if I deem in appropriate.

DH and I sometimes complain that we don’t really win a lot of stuff. Some people just seem to have a knack for it; for instance, DH claims his sister is one of those people who always won stuff when they were growing up, whereas he felt like he never won squat. However, I will say that we did win a $50 cash card from the bank once. We entered their little weekly drawing and got a call a few days later that we were selected….of course, we were, like, fifth in line after four people they contacted before us didn’t answer. :p But it was a “win” just the same, right?

When telling DH about my plan, he thought it sounded like a fun challenge. He also pointed out that he’d seen part of a show once about people who do this for a living. I suppose if you knew which sweepstakes to enter and you were diligent to enter as many as possible, as many times as possible, you would inevitably win something. However, I cannot conceive of it being lucrative enough to replace my day job. However, I am looking for work, so…. Ok, maybe not.

Occasionally I get phone calls saying that “I’ve won!” something or the other that I don’t remember entering. Worse, I get spammy texts practically every week claiming the same thing. Those irritate me to no end, so I just completely ignore them. I hope that if I actually win something, I will find their contact method legitimate enough that I don’t hang up on them if it’s the real deal (like a real person instead of a recorded message). Oops…

What about you? Have you ever won a contest or sweepstakes? What did you win? I’d be excited to hear your success stories!